The stars were out in Frederick Tuesday night as the Northern Division All-Stars came back to defeat the Southern Division 8-7. Despite getting down 5-0, the Northern team was aided by MVP Nick Banks who hit a three-run home run in the 8th inning to break a 5-5 tie. Let’s take a look at some of the top performers.
Michael Baumann (Orioles) – Baumann got the start for the Northern team and had an easy 1-2-3 inning. He showed the same strong velocity he had back in late April when I saw him as he consistently sat at 94. His fastball had some of the same glove side run he previously showed and he made quick work of the first three batters in the Southern lineup. Mechanically, Baumann has a simplified approach that wastes very little movement. He starts towards the first base side of the rubber with a slight step back out of the windup. I would like to see a little more elevation of his front leg on his balance point, but it’s tough for me to argue with the results at this point.
The challenge for Baumann now shifts to finishing the year stronger than he did in 2018 when he had a 5.33 ERA in August, his worst of the season. It looks like the Orioles are trying to manage his workload a bit, which is wise considering he is likely ticketed for a 2021 major league arrival.
Jason Bahr (Rangers) – Bahr got the start for the Southern squad and the thing I wanted to see was his physical profile as he is listed at 6’5/190. Based on the eye test, that looks to be pretty accurate. I don’t know if he will add much more weight but he certainly could so without much trouble. For his part he sat 91-92 but he flashed a plus curveball that had some good, late bite. Bahr has a lot of length in his upper body, which should help him because his release point is sneaky good.
My main takeaway is the secondary pitches will have to play up but if they do, he could be a back of the rotation starter. This isn’t a guy with special stuff but he knows how to pitch to both sides of the zone. Continuing to improve his changeup will be crucial to his development.
Javier Assad (Cubs) – I was excited to see Assad and he didn’t disappoint making quick work of the Northern team in the second inning with two strikeouts on 13 pitches (nine for strikes). Assad sat 92-94 but unfortunately in this format, I wasn’t able to see much of the four-pitch mix he is known for. My concern with Assad is how he will manage his body moving forward. He has a stocky build and if he isn’t careful, the weight might become an issue. Still, at just 21 he has the makings of a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher if he can keep in shape.
Jackson Kowar (Royals) – Kowar was by far the best arm I saw on the night. His fastball was anywhere between 95-97 with relative ease and it had late glove-side movement as well. For me, Kowar has the stuff and demeanor to be a major league starter, possibly a No.3. He was in control of the game from the moment he was throwing his warmup pitches and he attacked hitters.
Kowar gets terrific drive off his back leg, which allows him to generate plenty of velocity out of his 6’5/180 pound frame. The symmetry in his body when he is driving down through the pitch is picture perfect; this is a really polished product. The interesting thing is he didn’t look as lanky as Bahr did despite being listed 10 pounds lighter. Kowar should be part of a strong Royals core in two or three years.
Steven Klimek (Orioles) – Klimek is somewhat of an outlier in this game as his best pitch wasn’t his fastball, but rather a curveball that sat 90-92. I would consider it to be a plus pitch right now and as you can see in the video below, he absolutely buckles Corey Julks with it. The problem is the fastball is pedestrian so relying on just the offspeed stuff is going to be tough on nights when he doesn’t have command. He was a 33rd Round pick out of St. Bonaventure in 2015 so he might be a longshot to eventually end up in Baltimore, but the Orioles are an underrated system as far as pitching goes.
Luis Perez (Orioles) – Perez came out and threw with the best pure velocity of the night hitting 97 and 98 on consecutive pitches. He has a very slight build (6’0/175) so he is a max effort guy and his fastball had no movement. Like Klimek, he has an uphill battle to make it to Baltimore but the velocity speaks for itself.
Mario Feliciano (Brewers) – Feliciano was one of the youngest All-Stars at just 20 years old but he has plus power right now. He got his hips opened up on a 97 MPH fastball on the inner third and hammered it off the centerfield wall, every bit of 410 feet. He starts slightly open in his stance with his hands above his ear but the bath path is right the point. He doesn’t overswing or overstride which makes the pop in his bat all the more remarkable for his age. He has some strikeout issues (33 K% in 2019) but as he gains experience that should correct itself. Feliciano is almost assuredly Milwaukee’s catcher of the future, possibly as soon as 2022 and I will be pushing for him to be, at minimum, in the Brewers top 10 in the offseason.
Leody Taveras (Rangers) – Like Feliciano, Taveras is just 20. He had one of the most projectable and athletic builds of anyone on either roster. There were guys who had a thicker lower half (Corey Julks comes to mind) but Taveras is a twitchy guy with a really muscular frame. I don’t love the batting stance here because I think his hands start a little bit high and he has a little wrap going on but he is a good enough athlete to where he has no issues getting his hands through the zone. In the video below he took a Baumann fastball with two strikes and hit it hard at the shortstop. Although it was an out, from everything I have gathered, two years ago this is a pitch Taveras would have waved at.
So far in 2019 the strikeouts are down and the walks are up. I see no reason why he can’t be part of the Rangers’ future outfield plans, especially since he is already considered a plus defender. Prospect fatigue may get the best of some evaluators with Taveras but I am very much on the bandwagon and the arrow is pointing straight up.
Nick Banks (Nationals) – Banks was on a tear coming into Tuesday hitting over .400 in his last 10 games leading up to the break and he continued to mash with an eighth inning home run that essentially won the game for the Northern squad. Physically, he stood out from the crowd and at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, he is built like an NFL safety. He is definitely a pull-side hitter from the left side but I really dig the approach at the plate. Banks starts with the bat on his shoulder and then lifts it slightly when the pitch is thrown. It is such a simple motion but his hands are right where they need to be. I talk about a hitter’s “trigger” a lot when working with younger kids and I think for Banks, the bat resting on his shoulder pre-pitch is his way of telling his body he is ready to hit. He doesn’t overstride and much like Kowar was on the mound, Banks was in control with the bat in his hands.
I will be watching closely when Banks gets a promotion to Double-A as his plate approach should serve him well once he is there. The potential is here for Banks to be in Washington as a rotational outfielder at some point, with the potential for more.
Oscar Gonzalez (Indians) – Gonzalez is a bigger kid who did not make a lot of solid contact on the night. For a guy who is 6’2”, he crouches low in his stance, which goes against what guys of that height typically do. The swing path is long and he really struggled with pitches that were on the outer half. Coming into the game he had an OBP of .351 but with just six walks on the season that number is in no way sustainable. I have a hard time seeing him eventually making it past Double-A but he just turned 21 in January so for now time is still on his side.
The game will likely be better remembered for the names selected who had already been promoted: Brady Singer, Jarren Duran, Seth Beer, and Nick Madrigal. There were still a lot of high quality young guys, just not the names you see in a top 100 list. I sat amongst 20 scouts so there was definitely some intrigue. Also, Nolan Jones didn’t play at all in the game. I’m not sure if there was a reason behind it but it was disappointing nonetheless.
One of the biggest takeaways I had is the pitching game has completely changed. There wasn’t a single pitcher who couldn’t touch at least 93. There were four guys who were at 96+. As the game of baseball continues to evolve, velocity is going to rule the day and without it, most young pitchers are going to be hard pressed to be successful.